By Ihosvani Rodriguez, Sun Sentinel via OrlandoSentinel.com
Some thought it was a spotlight. Others wondered whether aliens were visiting us from afar.
One person joked it was probably “swamp gas” from Florida.
Turns out it wasn’t one of theirs from a distant galaxy, it was one of ours.
Hundreds — perhaps thousands — across Florida witnessed a white or bluish cloud shining in Wednesday’s sky just before dusk shortly after a Delta IV rocket was launched from Brevard County. Reports of the peculiar spectacle came from as far north as Jacksonville and down to the Florida Keys, U.S. Air Force officials said.
Meteorologists in Melbourne said the sight was nothing to be alarmed about. “There is no reason to be freaking out,” laughed National Weather Service meteorologist John Pendergrast, based in Brevard County.
Scientists believe the swirly white or electric-bluish cloud was caused by the exhaust plume of the rocket, which formed a cloud of ice crystals 240,000 to 280,000 feet above Earth. The illumination was caused by the sun still shining at that height.
The two spacecraft with red lights that some reported seeing were likely the rocket booster and the rocket separating from each other, officials said. The formation of the cloud and the 8:29 p.m. launch time made conditions ripe for the spectacular sight.
“You can only get that effect at certain times of the day,” Pendergrast said. “It was perfect timing. We knew before the launch we would be seeing something interesting in the sky.”
The same phenomenon was widely reported in South Florida in 2009, shortly after the launch of space shuttle Discovery.